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Reality, Sport

Playing Host

by Andy Davis, images by Craig Kolesky/SanDisk / 26.05.2010

It seems we misunderstood something when South Africa was awarded the rights to host the 2010 World Cup. Ever since we pitched for the event in 2006, and were beaten by Germany, there has been this phony sense of expectation hanging over our World Cup. It’s a kind of entitlement. The World Cup was going to be a fresh start for Africa. An opportunity to right some of history’s wrongs. Like slavery, colonialism, exploitation. It’s an old, sad song. Africa has had it rough and we’re a hopeful people. We’re always looking for that silver lining. So we heaped all these unrealistic expectations on a soccer tournament. Representation for South African artists on a global stage. Opportunities for poor traders and grass roots entrepreneurs. And we hoped that our World Cup would runneth over.

But really it was misguided of us to expect so much from a global sporting event run as a business by a Swiss based global federation that controls the game of football imperially, like a rich first world country. And yes they have acted like the capitalists they are. FIFA have been heavy handed with their copyright and their exclusion zones. They’ve been mean-spirited and litigious, and they’ve largely been backed by our “revolutionary” politicians. In short, their crooks got along very well with our crooks. But in the spirit of South Africa’s irrepressible silver lining mining, let’s try dig out some positives.

The World Cup has been the impetus for this government to get involved in some seriously big infrastructural development and public spending. Since 1994 the South African government hasn’t really engaged in any major public works. Certainly not on the level of what’s been achieved recently. It’s as if they were scared to tackle mammoth infrastructural building projects. And while our population grew, the roads got clogged and deteriorated, there was no real attempt to offer viable public transport, urban renewal stalled – then all of a sudden, with a swish of Sepp Blatter’s wand, we get the World Cup, and suddenly we had to build all these shiny new things. Yes, it’s sad that an old, white Swiss taskmaster like Sepp Blatter had to crack the whip and get our politicians to dance to his tune. And yes, it’s sad that our government couldn’t really get it together to achieve these infrastructural developments without a World Cup, but hey, what did we expect? “Democratic” Politics and Advanced Capitalism are grubby bedfellows. They’re systems that seem to reward the biggest rats. And while we all wish the people who govern could have found the money and the will to build more, better hospitals, orphanages, schools, mental institutions, prisons; maybe we need to be a little more pragmatic. Take the bird in the hand.

Yes a lot of politically connected goons and tenderpreneurs made themselves richer through the World Cup. And yes, the Local Organising Committee doesn’t feel that it’s necessary to have to account to the people of South Africa as to how they spent all our money. But hey, we got 10 brand new, world class stadiums out of the deal. Every major metropole has a new public transport system, roads were built with new interchanges to ease traffic flows, public amenities have been upgraded. South Africa has seen a boom in productivity like no other. Apart from the basic infrastructural gains, the World Cup has shown those in government that large public works projects are possible and can be achieved on deadline, if not on budget. And hopefully it’s taught the politicians an important lesson. That they can continue to enrich themselves while still providing and improving basic services and development for the people of South Africa. It’s an ugly kind of pragmatism for such an optimistic country. But maybe that’s the best place to start.

Perhaps the post-cynical South African photographer Nick Aldridge summed it up best when he said, “No one in South Africa seems to have questioned what being the host means. The host sets out the chairs, provides the meal and cleans up the mess when everyone goes home. What didn’t we understand?”

All images © Craig Kolesky/SanDisk

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